Professor Cui Weiping (崔卫平) teaches at the Beijing Film Academy. A literary and film critic and scholar, she is also known in Chinese intellectual circles for translating Václav Havel‘s works into Chinese. She writes about her moral struggle over the Milk Powder Scandal in her blog, translated by CDT’s Linjun Fan:
“I need to write down slowly how I feel about the Baby Milk Powder Scandal. How horrible it is that more than ten thousand babies were hospitalized and many more harmed (by contaminated milk power)!
What can I say? What can we say? Am I waiting for other people to say what has not been said? Looking around, I find that many friends are as trapped in silence as I am. They are also tormented by speechlessness.
Are we too shocked to speak? Or have we already said what we should have said? Or is it because we can’t find any words to respond to such a cruel reality?
This kind of torment has actually existed for quite a long time. We are wearied by the struggle between remaining silent and speaking out. Often times we can’t find the right words and choose to remain silent. Will our conscience become numb and impassive if we stay silent for too long?I think it is quite possible. If that happens, it would signify the end of our morality and spirituality.
I have actually encountered similar situations many times. I want to tell you something terrible that I’ve heard about but didn’t do anything about. I feel that I’ve participated in concealing something horrible whenever I think about it.
It was during the spring festival of 2005. I met a cousin who lives in the countryside. She told me that the rice they grew that year was not edible because a deadly pesticide had been applied to the plants. Some pigs died after being fed with the chaff from the rice. So the farmers bought rice from elsewhere to eat — and they sold the poisonous rice they grew to people in Shanghai.
My cousin didn’t say whether her own pigs had been poisoned. She has a limited education and doesn’t know much of the world outside her village. I am not sure whether she got it right when she said that the poisonous rice had been sold to Shanghai. But one thing was known for sure: the farmers bought rice to eat, and secretively sold their contaminated rice to others. And it’s something that farmers around the area all knew about.
What could I do after I heard something like this? Where could I go to report the problem? I can’t think of any official in the vast country who would patiently listen to me and try to address the problem. Most officials would probably regard me as insane if I went to talk to them. They would glance at me arrogantly from behind their desk. I don’t think I could stand the humiliation for even a few minutes. Why should I seek this disgrace? “There are all kinds of things like this happening in the country. There’s nothing I can do about it, ” I said to myself, trying to appease my conscience.
How pitiful I am! I already know that my effort will be useless even before I take any action. Is there a devil who lives in our hearts and sneers at our actions all the time? His mission is to deprive us of the ability to respond, to smother our enthusiasm, and to paralyze our will to take action. I am caught in the same situation as the impassive official I imagined. Both of us are controled by a curse and have lost the ability to take appropriate action…
But why should I know about things like this? Who are the people that constantly put them in front of my eyes and keep me suffering from this feeling of powerlessness? I hate to hear about things that reflect the darkness of human nature which I can do nothing about…I have no choice but to live with it. I place my heart and conscience in a corner, as if they are frozen and numb.
However, my humanity has been hurt. The damage is immeasurable. Trapped in this kind of silence and not able to do anything about it, I feel bad about myself. I almost feel that I’ve become a pile of dogshit, or a slave who only knows work but not how to speak. I chat and joke with people around me, but I am not able to talk about the biggest bewilderment on my mind.
To speak, or not to speak, this is the question. This is a question that is hard for our judgment. But what we’ve lost is the ability to make basic moral judgments.”